writes copy 06 Oct 2017

Entrepreneurs swarm to get in on the idea factories at Intellectual Ventures and AI2

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AI2’s Jacob Colker gestures while Intellectual Ventures’ Azam Khan and Seven Peaks Ventures’ Dave Parker look on during a Seattle Startup Week session titled “Founders Wanted.” (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Less than two months after Intellectual Ventures and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence put out the call for entrepreneurs, business is booming.

“We might be sitting here in a year telling you something very different, but right now, it’s like, ‘Come one, come all,'” Azam Khan, Intellectual Ventures’ director of new ventures, told a roomful of entrepreneurs at the University of Washington’s CoMotion Labs.

Jacob Colker, entrepreneur in residence at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, was similarly bullish.  “I’m constantly looking for brilliant entrepreneurs, ideally some folks who have some scars on their back,” he said.

After Thursday’s talk, audience members swarmed around the two speakers as well as moderator Dave Parker, a venture partner at Seven Peaks Ventures. But what else would you expect at a Seattle Startup Week session titled “Founders Wanted”?

This summer, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (a.k.a. AI2) and Intellectual Ventures both announced they were looking for outside entrepreneurs to help turn in-house technological innovations into viable businesses.

Both companies have Microsoft roots: AI2’s founder is billionaire Paul Allen, who started up Microsoft with Bill Gates. Intellectual Ventures’ CEO is Nathan Myhrvold, who served as Microsoft’s chief technology officer in the early days.

Intellectual Ventures’ ISF Incubator, with offices in Seattle and Silicon Valley, has a broad portfolio of patented technologies to choose from, ranging from augmented reality and software to drones and the automotive industry. (The “ISF” in the incubator’s name comes from Intellectual Ventures’ Invention Science Fund, which is in charge of the portfolio.)

“We’re casting as wide a net as possible,” Khan told GeekWire.

AI2’s incubator, headquartered on the northern shore of Seattle’s Lake Union, is more narrowly focused on artificial intelligence '” particularly machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing.

Both outfits can offer six-figure enticements to the entrepreneurs they select. AI2 provides as much as $250,000 in seed money, plus six months of free office space and access to the more than 70 AI researchers and engineers on the institute’s staff.

Entrepreneurs who make the cut at ISF Incubator can receive $100,000 or more to wring the risks out of the their technologies or business plan, and potentially go on to develop their business with Intellectual Ventures taking a minority equity position.

Startups are nothing new for Intellectual Ventures, which has spawned companies such as Kymeta, Echodyne and Pivotal Commware; or for AI2, which spun out Kitt.ai  (acquired by Baidu in July) and Xnor.ai. But the “Founders Wanted” initiatives are something different.

“We’re not a venture capital company,” Khan said. “We are a technology company that has a lot of cool tech and has not committed the resources to commercializing the technology that we’ve committed to developing. Now we’re changing that, so it’s exciting times.”

It just might be even more exciting than Khan bargained for.

“I would say the interest is very high,” he told GeekWire. “Look around: The room’s packed. This part of our program is a new thing. … Now we’re starting to realize that, wow, we really have something here.”

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